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Survivors of bomber crash in Mont. from around US

RAPID CITY (AP) — People who live near the remote area where a B-1B bomber crashed in southeastern Montana said the plane broke apart in midair, scattering debris over several miles.

Rancher Braden Garwood said he was on horseback searching for a stray bull Monday when he heard an explosion and saw a mushroom cloud erupt in a field about 15 miles away. In the sky, a chunk of flaming metal was still hurtling through the air.

"A big chunk of something just heading straight for the ground," he told the Rapid City Journal. "And when it hit the ground it made another big boom and there was another big mushroom cloud of smoke."

The plane was based at South Dakota's Ellsworth Air Force Base, one of only two bases in the U.S. with B-1B crews. Its four crew members safety ejected and none suffered life-threatening injuries, military officials said.

The Air Force is still trying to determine what caused the plan to crash near Broadus, Mont., about 170 miles southeast of Billings, Mont. Military officials have cordoned off the crash site and have released no further information about what happened.

The crew members hail from across the country, the Journal reported: instructor pilot Maj. Frank Biancardi ll is from Methuen, Mass.; instructor pilot Capt. Curtis Michael is from Albion, Neb.; instructor weapons systems officer Capt. Brandon Packard is from Ashland, Ky.; and instructor weapons systems officer Capt. Chad Nishizuka is from Kailua, Hawaii.

Nishizuka's brother, Capt. Reid Nishizuka, died in April when he was piloting an MC-12 aircraft that crashed near Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan.

Col. Kevin Kennedy, commander of the 28th Bomb Wing, said ejecting from an aircraft is "a fairly rough experience" and subjects the crew to an "instantaneous load of G-forces."

The crew did not have time to contact Ellsworth before the crash, Kennedy said.

Area ranchers estimated that more than 50 Air Force officials were on the scene Tuesday, accompanied by a bevy of pickup trucks, diesel tankers, trailers and at least one ambulance. In the driveway of one rancher's property, the Air Force had erected five tents and a security checkpoint.

The Federal Aviation Administration has restricted flights within a 10-mile radius of the crash site to military aircraft only. The air space above the crash zone is closed indefinitely, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.